Reproductive Rights, Gender, Advice, Wellness, Social Justice, Interviews

These Muslim domestic violence survivors saved themselves – now they’re working to save others

All it took was a story to begin a national conversation.

One day, Verona Collection co-founder, Lisa Vogl, went public with an incredibly painful story on her Instagram about the abuse she faced in her previous marriage. The post quickly snowballed, turning into an opportunity to raise awareness about domestic violence in the Muslim community – and what Muslims can do to prevent future abuse, rather than enable it.

Domestic violence is not particular to any race, religion or culture, and is rampant in the United States. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 1 in 4 women has been victims of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in the U.S.

Salma Abugideiri, the founding board member of the Peaceful Families Project (PFP) and a licensed professional counselor, provided insight into domestic violence in the Muslim community.

According to a 2011 PFP survey, the number of Muslims affected by domestic violence is comparable to the national U.S. average. When asked about domestic violence in the Muslim community, Abugideiri stated that Vogl’s case is not an isolated incident. In fact,  she stressed that the matter of domestic abuse needs to be taken more seriously in the Muslim community.

The topic tends to get swept under the rug due to the value Muslims place on privacy, especially concerning family matters, as well as the pervasive idea that a person of faith wouldn’t face such issues.

That, of course, is far from the truth.

Lisa Vogl, who shared her heartbreaking story of being slapped, hit, kicked and even strangled while pregnant during her three years of marriage, thought long and hard before deciding to speak out. “No matter how many times I speak out about it and speak out on stage, I still cry, but I want to use what I went through to help others.”

Vogl made it clear that “this is not a Muslim issue and statistically there’s no difference based on education, race, ethnicity, religion; it happens across the board, but my community needs to step it up with how they handle the situation.” Vogl and her ex-husband went to four different counselors and multiple imams, and, unfortunately, only the non-Muslim therapist took the situation seriously.

On the other hand, they were told by some Muslims to pray, read more Quran, and be patient.

However, Vogl also stated that she wants to “paint the full and accurate picture that I had just as much, if not more help from Muslims. It was my Muslims friends who got me in the car, that paid for me to get to Orlando, that took me in.”

Salman Siddiqui, Director of Community Development at Islamic Circle of North America Relief (ICNA Relief) Central Florida, shared that the organization has opened eighteen women’s transitional houses and two domestic violence shelters in the United States.

When we asked if he felt that community leaders across the nation were properly helping survivors, Siddiqui responded, “I think, in our community, imams have good intentions and try to do their best from an Islamic point of view, but they might not be educated enough to help [survivors].” He believes that more education and courses on how to deal with domestic violence issues would help communities move forward.

Through PFP, Abugideiri has been working to educate imams to educate on how to react and provide assistance to domestic and sexual violence victims. “PFP hosts the National Imam and Chaplain training and workshops around the country to provide training to imams on how to recognize domestic violence, how to respond to it in a way that prioritizes the survivor’s safety and in a way that facilitates accountability in the abuser.” PFP also trains community leaders to learn how to work collaboratively with other advocates and professionals to develop a coordinated community response.

Sheerin Siddique, an attorney, blogger, secretary of the Women’s March Michigan, and survivor, has been outspoken for years about her ten-year-long marriage filled with emotional, spiritual, and physical abuse. For Siddique, divorce was never an option for her, even though the abuse started right from the beginning. “He hit me, bit me, even pushed me down the stairs. He was so possessive and very critical in all aspects, from my height to my looks to my personality. He would ask me if I was really a Muslim and if I prayed.”

Siddique also spoke to imams and was even kicked out of her home by her ex-husband, all while an imam was present. However, she was told by the imam to “give it some more time and keep trying.”

What finally pushed her to leave the marriage came during one particular night of rage: “The night that I left, my three daughters were sleeping in their room, and he came upstairs screaming and shouting, and he literally started choking me. At that point, I knew he was going to kill me, and all I kept thinking was what is going to happen to my girls if I die.”

In both Vogl and Siddique’s cases, the fear of being killed was the final push that led these women to leave their homes. Vogl explained that “abuse does so much to you that you end up thinking that you need the abuser. I was so broken down inside that I felt like I couldn’t live without him, not the other way around.”

Unfortunately, even in the light of stories like Vogl and Siddique, our community continues to stay in denial. Rather than standing up for survivors, many still encourage patience and prayer, regardless of the situation.

In response, Abugideiri says that she talks about safety: “Safety might be that you stay home and he leaves. Safety might be that you separate for a while. Safety might be that somebody comes to live with you. Safety can take lots of different forms. If in exploring safety, leaving is the best option, then it’s really important that, as Muslims, we understand that divorce is not a sin. [In fact,] in the Quran, God said to stay together in kindness or separate with kindness.”

 

If you or anyone you know has been affected by domestic violence, please reach out to The National Domestic Violence Hotline. To bring imam and chaplain training to your area, contact the Peaceful Families Project.